University of California Walkout Reflection and Update

By Guest Columnist Oct 13, 2009

Written by UC Berkeley second year student Lucas Zucker On September 24th I witnessed and became a part of something I never thought I would experience. Students, professors, workers, 5,000 strong, stood on Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley and cheered, booed, laughed, raised their fists, and shouted out on the same steps where over 40 years ago Mario Savio once stood. It was a vision of college I thought existed only in the imaginations of idealistic high school students who had yet to face reality. But the shouts confirmed that our generation is facing reality, not with a shrug, but with leadership. More than anything, to me, they were a confirmation that we are still powerful—in the face of all of our struggles just to somehow pay the cost of being here, to walk through this plaza every day, to claim these steps as our own. After seeming to hear every day of a new fee increase, a new cut, a new way in which this university was slipping bit by bit from our fingers, the shouts confirmed that we belong here together. I am now in my second year at Berkeley. By next fall, I will pay almost 150% of the tuition I was told I would pay upon my acceptance. Departments have cut their budgets by 20%. The university I dreamed of attending since childhood feels as if it is falling apart at the seams. This crisis has empowered us all and taught us that unless we show our strength, we will yet again be forced to shoulder the heaviest burden, and students will continue to pay many times more than our share of the state’s deficit. During this time, I became coordinator for the Berkeley chapter of a nationwide campaign for a bill currently in Congress to dramatically raise financial aid.
Several of my friends took leadership roles within the movement against these cuts, which every week holds a general assembly, leading up to a statewide conference here at UC Berkeley on October 24th. They demand an end to the fee increases, layoffs, and furloughs, transparency in the budget, and a democratization of the UC Regents and President, who are appointed by the governor, their decisions absolutely unchecked. These assemblies are a display of spontaneous student and worker power, an organic democracy that seems to sprout from the concrete of our campus, where college students are willing to sit and talk long into the night, planning the next mobilization in a long, difficult battle to save a dream called public education. Image via Flickr/CC: Epioles